Penn State has scored 68 points in its first two games, so surely at some point they moved the chains. It just hasn’t been on third down.
“It was atrocious last week,” center Ty Howle said. “So it had to get better.”
But it didn’t.
The Nittany Lions dominated Eastern Michigan on the ground Saturday in a 45-7 win, but for the second week in a row, couldn’t move the sticks on third down. The team is now 2-for-26 on the season after going 1-for-10 against the Eagles and 1-for-16 against Syracuse. Penn State has converted twice as many fourth downs (4-for-4) as third downs.
It’s not like there’s a magic button coach Bill O’Brien can press to make this problem go away. It’s something Penn State has been working on and will continue to work on throughout the season.
“We do stress it, and we will continue to stress it,” wide receivers coach Stan Hixon said. “We’re going to get better.”
In 2012, the offense converted 42.5 percent of their third downs, good for 47th of 124 teams in the nation.
On the road, of course, it’s more difficult to convert on third down with crowd noise being a factor. But last season, Penn State converted about 1.5 percent less (40.9) of its tries than its overall average. There’s not enough of a disparity to use that as an excuse, just as there’s not enough reason to assume the offense would convert more at home, which it didn’t Saturday.
Again, there’s no magic button. Christian Hackenberg, as he builds confidence, will likely improve on third down. There’s not one specific thing to point to for an immediate improvement. It’s just a matter of executing, tackle Garry Gilliam said. And sometimes, that takes time.
“[O’Brien] has all the schemes and plays in there,” Gilliam said. “It’s just a matter of us going out and doing it.”
Day to remember
Offense: RB Akeel Lynch
Lynch displayed his quickness and physicality in the second half Saturday, carving through the Eastern Michigan defense. He ran for 108 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
Against Syracuse, Lynch played solely special teams while Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak picked up just 80 yards on 30 carries. Saturday, all three averaged more than six yards per carry and reached pay dirt at least once.
Defense: DT DaQuan Jones
Jones had his second consecutive coming out party Saturday. After making just 22 tackles all of last season, he’s had nine in each of the first two games of the season (five for loss) and has been a force in the backfield. He has two sacks and is anchoring a stout defensive front.
Day to forget
Offense: Adam Breneman
Hackenberg and Breneman will likely enjoy plenty of success together over the next few years, but the tight end didn’t see the ball much Saturday.
He started at tight end opposite Jesse James and was flagged for holding on the first drive, then didn’t see the field consistently after that.
Defense: LB Nyeem Wartman
Wartman had a fine day, making six tackles, but is likely frustrated with what could have been.
Wartman broke up three passes, but at least two of them could have been interceptions had he gotten to the ball a half second earlier.
Sam Ficken’s third quarter field goal gave him 14 consecutive successful conversions dating back to last season, a school record set in 1992 by Craig Fayak.
Did you notice?
Safety and holder Ryan Keiser left the game in the second quarter after being hit hard while blocking during a kick return. Punter Alex Butterworth held Sam Ficken’s field goals and PATs following Keiser’s exit.
"Every time I put it on, I remember the guys before me. I'm going to be the last one wearing this number, so I'll make sure I do it proud," Lynch on being able to keep 1973 Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti’s No. 22, which was retired Saturday, for the rest of his career.
Steven Petrella can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 814-865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @steve_petrella.